Firefighters return to Conn. after battling Calif. wildfires

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FILE – In this Aug. 18, 2020, file photo, a plume rises over a vineyard in unincorporated Napa County, Calif., as the Hennessey Fire burns. Smoke from the West Coast wildfires has tainted grapes in some of the nation’s most celebrated wine regions. The resulting ashy flavor could spell disaster for the 2020 vintage. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Marlborough, Conn. (AP) – A group of 10 firefighters from Connecticut and Massachusetts has returned home after spending the last several weeks helping battle wildfires in Northern California.

The contingent left Connecticut on Sept. 4 and worked with the Hoopa Tribe on the Hoopa Valley Reservation and helped with the fire response in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

The group includes four full-time Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection employees, one full-time employee from Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management, and five private individuals who were hired temporarily by the federal government. Nine are from Connecticut and one is from Massachusetts.

Rich Scalora, the crew boss, told reporters the firefighters often worked 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. swing shifts performing “burnout operations” or “putting fire on the ground” to help control the blaze and stop the wildfire from advancing.

Scalora said the time spent in California was a rewarding and valuable learning experience, albeit a challenging one.

“We didn’t see the sun the whole time we were out there. It was completely smoke-obscured,” he said. “We were seeing smoke all day, every day. When you’re sleeping in your tent, there’s smoke. Unfortunately, that’s just California this time of year.”

Connecticut’s environmental protection agency maintains a roster of agency staff who’ve been certified to fight forest or wildfires. They must complete a rigorous training program and participate in an annual physical test, as well as refresher training. It’s part of a reciprocal aid program run by the U.S. Forest Service, which makes trained personnel available from other states to help Connecticut in case there’s a fire emergency or other natural disaster.

The state’s expenses associated with the deployments are fully reimbursed by the U.S. Forest Service.

This was the second group of Connecticut Interstate Fire Crew firefighters that Connecticut has sent this season. A previous group of 10 was deployed in late July to assist with wildfire response in the Modoc National Forest area in northeastern California. Two full-time DEEP staff members were part of that group.

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